The New York Rangers revamped line-up featuring Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Kirk McLean, Stephane Quintal, Sylvain Lefebrve and Mike York to name a few took the ice after an emotional tribute to Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton. The Rangers started early to show their speed and looked like a much better club than those of the past two years…however the Power Play Problem continues. After the first two games, the Blue Shirts were 0-12 (0 for 6 in each game) albeit a couple were less than 30 second powerplays coach Muckler and General Manager begin to wonder what it will take for this preseason awesome Power Play to translate into regular season goals.
The first game featured a Rangers high speed attack against Sweden`s Tommy Salo. Salo played superbly allowing only a goal to red hot Tim Taylor. Mike Richter was equal to the task, thwarting Ryan Smyth and the Oilers attack under Doug Weight and company. The standouts in games one and two were Mike Richter(51-48svs),Tim Taylor(1goal) and Mike York(1goal). Other noteables included Darren Langdon who had his first scoring attempt of the season stopped by Tommy Salo and his first scrap as he fought the behemoth Georges Laraque to a draw.
With the Junior Hockey season finally upon us we can again begin to follow the Montreal Canadiens’ junior prospects. The entry draft not only gave us a few more players to follow, but also gave us one less player to follow, as Gregor Baumgartner re-entered the 99 draft when Montreal failed to sign him to a contract prior to the imposed deadline.
The old faces include Francois Beauchemin, a hard-nosed defenseman who was Montreal’s 3rd choice in the 98 draft, and is currently playing with Acadie-Bathurst in the QMJHL; Eric Chouinard, a tall finesse player who was the Habs’ 1st choice in the 98 draft, and is currently playing for Quebec in the QMJHL; And Michael Ryder, a natural scorer who was the Habs’ 8th choice in the 98 draft, and is currently playing with Hull in the QMJHL.
Missing faces include Jason Ward, an intensity driven winger who was the Habs’ 1st choice in the 97 draft, and is no longer of junior age. Ward is currently playing with Quebec, Montreal’s AHL affiliate. The final missing face is Mike Ribeiro, the CHL’s leading scorer last season and the Habs’ 2nd choice in the 98 draft. Ribeiro made the Canadiens’ roster out of training camp. He played in the opening game against Toronto with mixed results. He looked good on the power play setting up two of his teammates for good scoring opportunities. But was often moved easily off the puck by the bigger and stronger Maple Leaf players.
Perhaps more than any other team in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks will rely on youth to shoulder the load, and take them into, and hopefully far into, the playoffs. As with any team, there are key players on the Sharks who need to maintain their level of play. Players such as Vincent Damphousse who will be relied upon to maintain his scoring presence that he showed at the end of last year. Gary Suter who will be relied upon to lead the defensive core, and hopefully make a complete recovery from elbow problems last year. And of course, Mike Vernon who will be relied upon in goal along with Steve Shields, and most likely, be the main man come playoff time.
From there, the Sharks have a list of about 7 players long, who will take on just as important roles, all of whom under 25 years of age. Mike Rathje at 25 years old, Niklas Sundstrom at 24, Jeff Friesen and Alex Korolyuk both 23, Marco Sturm 21, Patrick Marleau 20, and Brad Stuart at only 19 years of age. You could throw Scott Hannan, 20, into the mix as well, as he’ll most likely be in the lineup before the season ends.
Many NHL teams struggle to convince their European prospects to come and play junior or minor league hockey in North America, but three Nashville Predators prospects are making a strong case for that traditional path to the NHL. Jonas Andersson, Martin Erat and Konstantin Panov have had explosive starts to the 1999-2000 season in the CHL and their success in the North American game may put them years ahead of their European counterparts who choose to stay home and develop.
Andersson, a 6’2″ 189-pound Swedish winger, was a surprise second round draft pick this summer, but the Predators were convinced that he was an excellent prospect. Perhaps the biggest factor in his selection was his pre-draft interview with general manager David Poile, in which he expressed his dedication to an NHL career and his willingness to play junior hockey in North America. After an oustanding rookie camp, Nashville assigned Andersson to the North Bay Centennials of the OHL, where he is already tied for the league lead in rookie scoring and is the top offensive player on his team. Through the first two weekends of the season, Andersson has five goals, four assists and nine points in just five games.
I recently had a chance to interview Jere Kolari, a Finnish, Kuopio born player who is now chasing his dream in WHL playing for the Lethbrigde Hurricanes. Usually it’s players from Russia, Slovakia and Czech reb. who want to make the jump to North-American junior hockey. The Finns and Swedes have traditionally chosen to play in their own junior leagues. Jere made a bold move this past year and left hometown Kuopio. He was drafted in the 1st round of 1999 import draft. This year he’s been plagued with various injuries (concussion, knee) in the preseason.
Let’s hear what Jere has to say about this upcoming season and his future:
Question (by Zika): So tell us about yourself? Who are you?
Answer (by Jere Kolari): I’m Jere Kolari, born in the 11th of February 1982. I’m 6’1 tall and weigh 180 pounds. I play hockey as a centerman/winger and I shoot right handed.
Q: So when did you start playing hockey?
A: I was about 7 years old, the reason, was that all my friends played it and it was so fun.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a hockey player?
A: Well my strength is that I have a good shot and hockey sense, but obviously there’s still a lot of work I need to do on all areas to improve my game. I really should improve my skating.
Q: How has your hockey career been so far?